“I believe I have unlimited potential but it is not supported by others due to my age (53) as if I am no longer relevant – hard to fight against this prejudice when it is pervasive.” unemployed woman in advertising / marketing
Gender ageism is the intersectionality of age and gender bias. In the workplace, this is a growing concern for professional women.
The company’s focus on what Catalyst defines as ‘lookism’ – the importance of looking young and attractive – puts women under a microscope as they show visible signs of aging. . Due to “lookism”, women face ageism earlier than their male counterparts. Prejudice erodes women’s self-esteem and confidence, but the effects of gender ageism on professional women go beyond the pressure they may feel to appear young. This form of prejudice affects their job security and financial futures as they are seen in the workplace as less valuable, less skilled, and unimportant as they age.
To better understand how gender ageism affects professional women, I conducted research in collaboration with Catherine Lindner of Out-Wit, Inc. The survey collected responses from 729 participants aged 18 to 70 and older, with 65% of respondents coming from the US and the majority of the rest from Canada, UK and Europe.
Here are the main takeaways from the survey:
1. Gendered ageism is real – 80% of those surveyed have experienced some form of sexist ageism. A third of all respondents (33%) felt that they could not get a job or an interview because of their age. The most common experiences were ‘feeling that opinions were being ignored’ (47%), ‘seeing younger colleagues getting attention’ (42%) and ‘not being invited to key meetings’ (35%).
“I think ageism is rampant and continues to get worse. I also believe that ageism is a burden on the economy and that finding ways to use older workers will be the key to economic growth.
“Much of it is hidden. For example, employers simply don’t respond to your resume. I see a lot of job postings asking for a photo or online profile with photo. – woman 59-64 with a graduate degree in the real estate sector.
2. There is no “correct” age – Women said they were either too young or too old. 77% of those under 35 reported the negative impact of gender ageism. From the age of 35, women begin to experience gendered ageism at increasing rates as they age, with 60% of those 35-40 reporting having had this experience. The percentage peaks among people aged 59 to 64, with 88% reporting having experienced some form of sexist ageism.
“I feel like I’m at a tipping point – 41 years old.” – woman 41-46 with a graduate degree in the legal field.
3. Gendered ageism is present everywhere – For those currently working, 77% reported a prevalence of gendered ageism, 41% saying it was ‘very or moderately’ prevalent. Those in public companies were more likely to report a prevalence of 82% compared to 73% in private companies.
“Ageism – when I was fifty years old, I was refused a job in financial services when I was over 10 years old in financial services. The job was given to a young man with no experience. – woman over 70 with a college diploma, self-employed in the financial services sector
4. Nowhere to go for help – Three-quarters (75%) of those who experienced gender ageism and were still working took no action. Of those who didn’t take action, 70% said they didn’t take action because they didn’t think it would make a difference. More than a quarter (26%) did not trust HR and 23% did not want to risk their jobs. Among those who took action, there was little satisfaction. Of the 19% who spoke to their manager, 44% were very dissatisfied and 17% were somewhat dissatisfied. The satisfaction rates of the 11% who spoke to HR were even lower, with 71% being very or somewhat dissatisfied.
5. DEI does not make the cut – When asked if their company’s DCI initiatives included gender ageism, 77% responded that it was not included. Interestingly, 23% said they didn’t know and 15% said their company did not have DEI initiatives. Public companies were more likely to have a DEI, all but 3%, but only 23% of public and private companies included gender ageism. Almost a third of private companies had no DEI at all (30%). However, almost all respondents from public and private companies (93% and 83% respectively) believed that more could be done to combat this prejudice.
“This is an important topic that has been ignored or overshadowed by other DCI priorities.” – 47-52 woman with a college diploma in the non-profit sector.
6. A dead end situation – Not enough money to retire and limited work prospects – Gender ageism has long-term implications for retirement, with more than half of those polled saying they don’t have enough money to retire and almost all (95%) of those over the age of 53 years old – including 65-70 year olds – declaring that they want or need to continue working. Yet over a quarter of 28% of women aged 59 to 65 thought their chances of continuing to work were “fair” or “poor”. The most common reason is “My business doesn’t like older workers”.
7. Once fired, not rehired – Of those who were unemployed, 9 in 10 said they had been made redundant, laid off, forced to retire, or had difficulty securing a job or interview because of their age. More than half (54%) had been unemployed for more than a year. In addition, 75% of these respondents do not have enough money to retire, which creates greater urgency.
“I participated in 20 interviews in 2 years. I believe it is a combination of ageism and being overqualified, seen as a threat to younger staff. It is extremely dehumanizing and exhausting to be rejected over and over again for positions for which I am perfectly qualified. – female, 59-64 years old with a graduate degree in a non-profit field
8. Education provides nominal isolation – Even the most educated women experience this form of discrimination with more than 3/4 (77%) of higher education graduates facing gender ageism, compared to 83% of those with a four-year university degree. Those with 2-year degrees and “some college” were the most vulnerable with 88% and 90% respectively stating that they experience gender ageism.
9. Follow the money – Interestingly, people working in the financial services industry were the least likely to report experiencing gender ageism, with 34% saying they had never experienced it. Interestingly, this is one of the most power-conscious industries of older women, as they control over $ 10 trillion in wealth that is expected to grow to $ 30-40 trillion over the course of the year. next decade in the United States alone.
In summary, gender ageism affects women at all stages of their careers, but especially when they are under 35 and over 50. The emphasis on “lookism” prompts women to appear young and often trumps their performance when evaluated. As a result, many women aged 50 and over are sidelined and / or excluded to make room for young workers. While this is also true for men, women experience it earlier. Once laid off, women find it much more difficult to get rehired at a time when they may be running out of funds for retirement.
Gendered ageism is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed in DCI initiatives. Managers and HR representatives need to be better equipped to have conversations with women experiencing ageism, and their companies need to create a safe environment for these discussions to take place.
Bonnie Marcus, M.ED, is the author of Not finished yet! How women over 50 regain confidence and claim their power at work and Promotion policy: how top performing women get ahead and stay ahead. Executive coach and speaker, Bonnie is also a podcast host, Badass women at all ages.